I'm sure Sherwood Schwartz never remotely thought this show could touch upon greatness, but, in only 3 seasons, it provided the perfect elliptical Absurdist series. The Castaways never get off the island, despite all their best efforts, and many people who find them. And Gilligan, played by Bob Denver, always screws things up.
Rumor has it his first name was Willy, but it was never mentioned in the series.
When I reviewed this show, some years ago, I wrote:
So, the query is- if the characters are so dumb & predictable, why are they so beloved? Because they are archetypes, not stereotypes- despite the absurd plots. Even when treated to the stand-bys of doppelgängers or ‘certain’ doom, the viewer knows the episode will end just where it began- not waiting for Godot, but salvation. Still, the characterizations are so strong, that by the 3rd or 4th episode we know how every character is going to react to a certain premise. This would kill most shows- witness the dull meanderings of the 1980s mega-hit, The Cosby Show. But, being set with such a wacky initial premise allowed each episode to go off on increasingly absurd branches without viewer backlash against the characters. This allowed producer SS to moralize without being preachy- unlike, say Bill Cosby’s show. This absurdism also allowed SS to have a retinue of occasional stock actors to play many parts- the most notable recurring actor being Vito Scotti- who made a handful of outrageous appearances as different characters. In a way, GI’s fantastical plots allowed a lot of subtextual social commentary to go on without being heavyhanded. In this way, GI resembled another all-time tv classic- The Twilight Zone. On TTZ writer & producer Rod Serling could slip in political messages under the guise of an extraterrestrial storyline, that he could never slip by the network censors were he overtly writing about McCarthyism or racism. Similarly, GI could tackle greed, vanity, materialism, & relationships by using far out scenarios to comment on more prosaic dealings with such things. This is why viewers were drawn into the show in its network run, & have never let it go since. Despite the absurd silliness we all know versions of the 7 castaways in our own lives. This made them REAL, despite their often caricaturized state. Add in the fact that the castaways never really learn their lessons, & the parallels to reality could become depressingly obvious, were they not so hilarious. Never before nor since has tv been so existential, & simple, at the same time. The show was about total illogic, yet it made perfect sense, especially the more its slapstick & absurdism pushed the pedal to the metal.
But, another element in the show's greatness was that it featured, like The Honeymooners, the second all time great comedy team on television: Bob Denver's Gilligan and Alan Hale, Jr.'s The Skipper. Whereas Gleason and Carney were more akin to the sentimental comedy of a Charlie Chaplin, Denver and Hale were Laurel And Hardy sorts. Who was the straight man and who was the comic relief? Both were both.
Also, the series featured the immortal existential query: Ginger or Mary Ann?
Most men say Mary Ann, but I'll be honest, it's Ginger in a walk, although Mary Ann has held up very well over the years- perhaps the sexiest septuagenarian ever!